Reggie Wells (Stephen Dunn/Getty)
One of Ken Whisenhunt’s biggest intents last season was to upgrade an offensive line which had been known more for its shortcomings than praise. After one season it appears that he and line coach Russ Grimm are on the road to doing just that. AZRedReport.com breaks down what the Cardinals still need to improve on and how they stack up against their divisional foes.
Last season's starting five of Mike Gandy, Reggie Wells, Al Johnson, Deuce Lutui and the Cardinals fifth-overall pick Levi Brown took care of the Matt Leinart-Kurt Warner duo, but didn’t manage to break out of the bottom five in regards to the running game for the third season in a row.
The unit allowed just 24 sacks, good for a league eighth-best. This was an improvement over the previous season when it tied for 17th in the league, having allowed 35 sacks.
Heading into next season the problem is little depth at the tackle position. Elton Brown is the only O-line member with the ability to play both the right and left side if needed. Wells could become more adept at his run-blocking and Gandy isn’t considered by most to be a choice player but he did get the job done last season.
The Cardinals waited until the seventh round to address the needs on the line, using the 225th overall pick to select 6’5”, 345 guard, Brandon Keith out of Northern Iowa.
Arizona did go out and sign a good number of undrafted rookie free agents after last months draft, four of which are offensive linemen. Peter Clifford (Michigan State), Thaddeus Coleman (Mississippi Valley State), Carlton Medder (Florida) and Hercules Satele (Hawaii). Of the four Coleman and Satele would appear to have the best chances of making the team.
Against the West
The Cardinals have no doubt made progress since Whisenhunt has come into the fold but in ranking them against two of their NFC West counterparts, they came in a little bit behind the curve.
Seattle still boasts Walter Jones at left tackle as well as Sean Locklear on the right side. This unit helped to pave the way for the 20th best rushing attack in the league and protected quarterback Matt Hasselbeck well, allowing the team to finish eighth overall in passing. The Seahawks didn’t spend any draft picks on the offensive line.
The St. Louis Rams were only the 25th overall rushing team in the league last season even with stalwart Steven Jackson manning the starting role there. They didn’t fare much better in the passing game either, ranking 19th overall with 202.1 yards per game. They are hoping that veteran Orlando Pace can stay healthy and that either their third round pick, John Greco (Toledo) or fifth rounder Roy Schuening (Oregon State) can contribute immediately on the line.
San Francisco comes in last here as they allowed a league high 55 sacks last season and finished 27th in rushing and 32nd in passing overall. With Larry Allen most likely opting for retirement and Jonas Jennings showing the unenviable knack for injuring himself year after year, the 49ers hope that this unit can gel at all.
Moving tackle Joe Staley to the left side where he will be responsible for guarding the quarterbacks blindside could pay off and they hope rookie Chilo Rachal can contribute out the gate.